Really, I had a great time here. I didn’t have as much pressure because I wasn’t the head coach — that was all (Kyle) Whittingham — but I just loved this town. —Dennis Erickson
SALT LAKE CITY — Dennis Erickson will be coaching again — and in Rice-Eccles Stadium, to boot.
The former University of Utah assistant coach has been named the first head coach of Alliance Salt Lake, which was introduced as one of the first four members of the fledgling Alliance of American Football league.
Salt Lake’s squad will play its home schedule on the Utes’ turf, a fact that helped entice Erickson out of retirement.
Hearing that Salt Lake City was one of the first teams — and the one he’d coach — was a huge bonus for Erickson. His 47-year coaching career included four seasons in Utah including one season (2013) as Kyle Whittingham’s offensive coordinator.
“Really, I had a great time here,” Erickson said. “I didn’t have as much pressure because I wasn’t the head coach — that was all Whittingham — but I just loved this town.”
Atlanta, Memphis and Orlando are the other three teams to have been named to a league that will start with eight teams. Phoenix is the next city that will be introduced.
The Alliance was founded by TV and film producer Charlie Ebersol, son of TV legend Dick Ebersol (board of directors), and Hall of Famer Bill Polian. Former Steelers greats Troy Polamalu (head of player relations) and Hines Ward (player relations executive) are among the other well-known NFL guys spearheading this league.
AAF executives believe their league will succeed where other secondary pro football leagues — like the USFL and XFL — have failed because of financial backing and personnel involved. The idea is to complement the NFL, perhaps even becoming of a minor-league springboard.
“It’s impressive. It’s people that are in it for the long haul,” AAF head of football operations J.K. McKay said of the financiers and sponsors. “We’ve been very realistic in our budgetary projections in terms of how many tickets we think we can sell and what the costs are going to be.”
The league is also in a good broadcasting position, having already secured a national TV contract with CBS. Every game will also be streamed.
The AAF will begin its 10-game schedule following the NFL’s Super Bowl on February 9, 2019. There will be two playoff rounds and a championship game on the final weekend of April.
To help promote player safety, the AAF will not have kickoffs or extra points. Teams hoping to keep the ball after a touchdown will have the opportunity to attempt a fourth-and-10 play from the 35-yard line to retain possession.
The league will allocate local players to the nearest team, meaning former Beehive State collegiate players will end up with Alliance Salt Lake. There will be a version of a draft for unallocated players.
“Now that we have the coaches involved, we’re all going to sit in a room and argue about it for a while,” McKay joked.
Erickson chuckled when asked if he’d be willing to coach players from BYU. He mentioned that he’s close friends with Cougar coaches Kalani Sitake and Aaron Roderick and added, “If they’re good, I’ll coach anybody.”
The 71-year-old Erickson, who has two national championships under his belt from his Miami days, is looking forward to getting back on the sideline with a league that seems to have a promising game plan.
“They’ve got a purpose. It’s about the players. They’ve got great financial backing,” Erickson said. “To me it was about just the players and the fans. That’s what I miss most about it. When you do it as long as I do, you just want to get back in it. As long as I can do a good job and coach and stay on both feet, I want to coach as long as I can.”
The Alliance also plans on taking good care of its players by giving each player one year of a scholarship to finish college for every year in the league. Players will also have opportunities to do internships and take advantage of partnerships in a post-career jobs program.
McKay relayed the AAF’s optimistic outlook of becoming a legit alternative to the NFL thanks to the people and finances involved.
“We’re focused 100 percent on football, quality football. That’s why he’s here,” McKay said, referring to Erickson. “I think players will want to come to this league. They all want a chance. Our guys will — in the early years — be able to move to the NFL after the season’s done.
“The NFL will be watching, and hopefully a lot of other people will be watching, too.”